THOUSANDS of lecturers, researchers and other academic staff are being balloted on strikes over pay, pensions and working conditions, threatening disruption at more than 150 universities before the end of the year.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will vote in the next few weeks on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action, which could stretch into the new year if the row remains unresolved.

The union says it is fighting cuts to Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions, declining pay, the use of insecure contracts, unsafe workloads and “serious” equality failings.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said pay and working conditions have worsened over the past decade, with staff now at “breaking point”.

The union expects a big vote in favour of action, which would lead to strikes before the end of the current term, and other forms of action in the new year.

Grady said: “University staff are the backbone of the sector, but for a decade they have been thanked with massive cuts to their pensions, collapsing pay and the rampant use of insecure contracts.”

She warned strikes would cause “enormous disruption”.

The UCU is calling for a £2500 pay increase, an end to race, gender and disability pay differences, a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other precarious contracts, and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.

A Universities UK spokesperson said: “We are disappointed UCU is pressing ahead with an industrial action ballot over USS pensions.

“The proposed reforms secure USS’ status as one of the most attractive pension schemes in the country, and eliminate the need for massive contribution rises that would severely reduce pay and force employers to make cutbacks in other budgets.

“After a difficult 18 months, students do not deserve any further disruption.”